Imagine yourself as 12-year-old Wendy Moira Angela Darling, and one night Peter Pan appears in your window. As the jubilant boy flies about the room he speaks of swashbuckling pirates, an enchanting mermaid lagoon, and a promise to fly among the stars using only your happiest thoughts and fairy dust. Many of us have pondered this scenario and wished it for ourselves. Not only do we wish it, but we are constantly coming back to the story of Peter Pan as a children’s classic and timeless tale that keeps being told. Peter has gracefully flown from the pages of J.M. Barrie’s play, Peter Pan (1904), into multiple musicals, movies and books, but what makes Peter’s tale so pervasive? Do we not want to grow up? Does he have qualities we strive for in ourselves?
Peter Pan is the ultimate representation of childhood, as he is the one child that never grows up. He ran away from his parents when he was a baby because he wanted to always be a little boy, and he didn’t want to have the responsibilities of adulthood. Sounds great, right? No bills, no stress, no decisions—just plain fun.
For some, Peter is the pinnacle of who they aspire to be. He is fearless and confident in his ability to do anything. His only ‘responsibility’ is defeating Captain Hook, but even that is not a chore; rather a fun adventure. He is inspiring and yet a bit devious at the same time, but we know that Peter is going to be the hero at the end of the day.
However, Peter isn’t necessarily the hero. In the original story by Barrie, Neverland exists for Peter’s sole pleasure and fun, and when he leaves, the island is stagnant. With somewhat of a reckless nature and frequent disregard for others, including his faithful fairy Tinkerbell, Peter shows some of his selfish colors. While his innocence buoys his youthful magic, his immaturity and lack of discipline often put others at risk.
Despite his character flaws, there’s still something innately charming and intriguing about him. We love Peter, but not necessarily because he is the epitome of innocence, goodness, and adventure, but rather because he reveals the complexity and brevity of childhood. He can’t grow up, so he lives in a world where there are no consequences for his actions. But like Wendy, just as we begin to forget our aspirations, reveling in our adventures with Lost Boys, we find ourselves wanting to come back home to the reality of our lives and our families. While Peter never can break his repetitious cycle and experience adult life, he is our link to the part of us that craves the unhinged freedom and fulfillment of imagination.
Through the beauty of literature and storytelling we are able to transport ourselves into the world of Neverland and remember what it’s like to see with child-like eyes once more. We need this kind of escape, need to nourish our desires to fight pirates and swim with mermaids, and Peter Pan is just the boy to sprinkle us with fairy dust and take us there.
Gabriella Guinta plays Wendy Darling in freeFall’s production of PETER PAN running in rep with PETER AND THE STARCATCHER through January 29.